This is a guest blogpost by Noha Atef.
Women scientists from nine different countries in the Arab world have gathered in the UAE to spotlight the major challenges and hurdles that they usually face working in different research fields. The gathering, which also included pointers on leadership, building and managing teams, self-confidence and communication workshops, and role playing sessions, was hosted by the Dubai-based agricultural research centre known as ICBA, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Islamic Development Bank.
The meeting marked Tamkeen’s first ever event – a women scientists’ empowerment programme masterminded by Ismahane Elouafi, director general of ICBA and, as per CEO-Middle East magazine, one of the Arab world’s 100 Most Powerful Women in science. Nature Middle East spoke to Elouafi about the landmark event.
NME: Tell us your impressions of Tamkeen’s first event? Was it up to your expectations?
Ismahane Elouafi: We were lucky to have women joining us from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordon, Lebanon, Oman, UAE and Kuwait. The young women’s enthusiasm was just impressive. Their feedback was overwhelmingly positive.
We are not starting from scratch, we are building on somebody else’s experience and that’s the AWARD program started by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They helped us a lot despite the differences between the Arab world and African region.
NME: What was the common barrier that women scientists said they faced launching their careers?
IE: The cultural and biological pressure. As women, we have a biological clock. We have to get married, have children, take care of our family and make them a priority, which is normal. That’s what’s expected from our culture. Although that’s something [that is present in] other parts of the world, for Arabs it’s more intense.
NME: Would you care to give us glimpses into some of the participants’ discussions?
IE: One of the ladies said that she will start applying what she has learned first on her family. In her mind, the soft skills [that she learned at Tamkeen’s workshop] are tools that should be used every day and in every place, not just work. And that’s what we are truly looking for; give [these women scientists] the confidence to develop themselves in both the professional and personal [arenas]. … Our aim is to reach 20 to 30 women [per year] and see the impact on their families, communities and countries.
NME: How do you think those potential researchers will use the knowledge you’re providing to nourish their careers?
IE: If the course was successful, it [should] help each one of them to progress in her field. This can be measured through the number of publications they produce and through participation in conferences. It will also reflect on the way they present and communicate their work.
NME: How does this program affect you personally?
IE: Oh, I love young people. I always see myself in them. … I enjoy seeing ambitious women with so much potential. They are just looking for one single opportunity to fly. Helping them in the smallest way is a very big achievement and it’s a joy that I can’t even describe.